State convention displays spirit, strength of Grange movement

Whidbey Island’s Chuck Prochaska circled the Ocean Shores Convention Center to survey how his Deer Lagoon Grange No. 846 had fared at the 124th annual State Grange Convention.

Among the nearly 500 Grange members, delegates and their families, Ocean Shores was bustling with the spirit of a grassroots community organization that continues to play a key role in the lives of nearly everyone in Washington state, just as it has since 1989.

Prochaska was checking on blue ribbons for several arts and crafts displays and awaiting the status of judging on the Deer Lagoon community service project entry, one of the top prizes of the annual meeting, June 26-29 at the Convention Center. It’s not just displays of the members’ handiwork and handicrafts that is at the heart of the Grange movement. It is building stronger families, communities, non-partisan, grassroots solutions to age-old problems with tried and true democratic traditions of civil debate and service to country.

Prochaska noted it was the Grange that brought voters the “pick-a-party” primary in 2004 through the initiative process, in which state voters are no longer bound to vote strict party lines but can vote for any person they choose.

“Everything the Grange does and what we represent in fighting for rural values and American roots, preserving the rural way of life, and maintaining our morals, it is quite an organization,” he said. “Washington State Grange is the largest grange in the United States with 250 Granges in the state.”

This year’s State Grange Convention was hosted by the Southwest District, which include Granges from Grays Harbor, Pacific, Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Clark Counties.

After the success of the convention, some delegates suggested Ocean Shores would make a perfect place for a new Grange, too.

State Grange Lecturer Tom Gwin of the Humptulips Grange, who was master of ceremonies for the talent, public speaking and sign language contests, made a strong case for a new Grange on the North Beach. He even suggested trying to book a return engagement for the annual event. “Just by us being here, we’re exposing people to Ocean Shores who have not been here before,” he said. “They have a reason to come and a lot of them will be back.”

From Island County, Prochaska was with seven other Grange members visiting Ocean Shores for the first time the beach community has hosted the annual event. In all, he had about 50 items entered in either the arts and crafts or family living display rooms that were filled with all the top entries later to be entered or displayed in many of the county fairs around the state.

There was a photo of multi-colored tennis shoes worn by children in a kaleidoscope-like pattern, a sculpture of a happy old cowpoke sitting on a bench, a hand-crafted and blown glass flower, a metal-sculpture of a horseshoe crab. “This is kind of a side thing to the real purpose. The real purpose is legislative action,” Prochaska said. “We’re passing policy here where we go to the legislators in Olympia and say, ‘Hey, this is how the Grange feels.’”

Some of the issues in the past have led to the Public Utility District movement bringing public power to rural areas, policies on education, agriculture and open government. Prochaska’s Grange was putting forth a resolution to have English adopted formally as the national language.

“If people come up with an idea, and they agree on that idea, then they write a resolution in a legislative format that then goes to this group,” he said of the state delegates. “So it’s totally grassroots. And if people out here agree with your Grange, and vote it in, then it becomes part of the Washington State Grange legislative policy. That carries quite a bit of weight in Olympia.”

There were 76 resolutions in all that were considered, Gwin said. “Everything from the issue of bees dying, to minors in the orchards, forest health, farm milk issues, property rights, and land management is always a hot issue,” Gwin said.

As a delegate to the annual convention, Prochaska had been coming to the state event for the past 12 years, and he gave Ocean Shores a big thumbs up as a location to showcase all of the Grange’s best attributes. It featured a golf event at the Ocean Shores Golf Course and an ice cream social and talent show featuring the Youth Grange (under 15) and the Junior Grange (over 15) members competing in performing arts, public speaking and other events.

Grange competitions are civil but competitive, and there is prize money in some categories, such as the Grange Hall Improvement Award, which the Deer Lagoon Grange won for restoring a 1904 structure that was in danger of falling down.

“We did some major structural work on the building,” Prochaska said. “The judges liked how we approached it.”

Gwin noted there was once a movement to build a Grange in Ocean Shores, and the state convention was held in Hoquiam 19 years ago when the old Ocean Shores Convention Center was judged to be too small for the full group of Grangers. “This is the first time we’ve ever met at the ocean,” he said. “A few years ago we looked at this facility (the convention center), and our county organization decided they wanted to support having the convention here, so we put a proposal together, and we got it. It’s been a great facility.”

“Everything is right here for us,” Gwin added, noting the hotels in town also gave “us very good rates.”

“When you have this many Grange members in town, they are spending money in the restaurants and stores, and getting a little bit more business, especially with us being here during the week,” he said.

As the closest Grange to Ocean Shores in Humptulips, Gwin said he has seen interest from North Beach residents over the years.

“We had one at Pacific Beach a few years ago, and what we found, especially in the Pacific Beach area, was that it was a real transient population up there,” he said of the large group of residents who only live there part-time or for only three or four years. “We just couldn’t get the stability to keep it going.”

Now, he estimates six or seven members of the Humptulips Grange are from Ocean Shores.

“It looks like we are gaining some interest out here, and there is the potential we may organize a grange out here,” Gwin said.